The luck of the Italians!
For some time Dundalk managers, firstly Stephen Kenny and then Vinny Perth, have bemoaned the club’s misfortune when it comes to European draws, with the Lilywhites very often paired with the toughest of opponents.
However, new interim head coach Filippo Giovagnoli can have no cause for complaints after his side were drawn away to Andorran champions Inter Club d’Escalades in the second qualifying round draw for the Europa League.
The game, which will take place on Thursday September 17th, is likely to take place at a neutral venue as neither Andorra nor its neighbours France or Spain are on the Irish Government’s Green List.
With Hungary, where Dundalk lost 3-0 to NK Celje in the Champions League qualifiers a fortnight ago, closing its borders today (Tuesday), the most likely destination is Greece – the only country offered up by UEFA as a neutral venue which is on the Green List.
Regardless of the venue, the game presents a very winnable game for Dundalk despite their recent struggles on the field.
Like Celje in Slovenia, Inter Club d’Escalades won their maiden league title last season having only ever finished at best third on three occasions since being founded in 1991. They also pipped the same opponents to the Andorran Cup with a 2-0 win in late July.
Managed by former MK Dons goalkeeper Adolfo Baines, they pipped Andorra’s most successful side FC Santa Coloma to the title before going on to play their first ever European match in early August, losing 2-1 against Kosovan champions FC Drita in Nyon.
While underdogs for the tie, Inter Club have plenty of experience with players such as Ildefons Lima (128 caps), Marc Pujol (84 caps), Juli Sánchez (73 caps), Cristian Martínez (59 caps), Sergi Moreno (59 caps), Ludovic Clemente (36 caps), Emili García (46 caps) and goalkeeper Josep Gómes (63 caps) having extensive international experience with the Andorran national side. Argentinian full back Federico Bessone has also played a handful of matches in England with Swansea City, Leeds United, Charlton Athletic, Swindon Town, and Millwall.
There’s also a history of goals against Irish opponents. Winger Cristian Martínez scored Andorra’s goal in their 3-1 defeat against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in the Euro 2012 qualifiers on September 7th 2010 while the country’s most capped player Lima gave Andorra a 1-0 lead over Ireland at Lansdowne Road in April 2001 in a game Ireland went on to win 3-1 as part of the 2002 World Cup Qualifiers.
Giovagnoli will have a bit of time to work with his players before their venture into Europe with Friday’s scheduled league match against Derry City at the Brandywell postponed due to international call-ups.
Reacting to this after his side’s 2-0 win away to Cobh Ramblers on Sunday, the 49-year-old said: “It’s beautiful for us because we’ve time to work.
“We’ve just to see how we come out of this game and then we’ll decide what we’ll do in terms of whether we organise a friendly or just train.”
The former Metropolitan Oval Academy coach said he had enjoyed his first few days at the club.
“It was great. The first thing was to be accepted by the players.
“I know people around us are sceptical and I understand that. That’s fair and I get it but my job is just to work hard and try to convince people that we can train this team no problem.
“Cobh was a really complicated game for us but we were expecting that. They described to me what we would find here and it was exactly as we expected so we were prepared mentally to fight. That was the most important thing.
“I thought the intensity was okay. I think we can do better with the ball and we’re going to work a lot to have more possession and better build up. We put in place some principles. Sometimes they happened but we are still in a work in progress.”
Giovagnoli also refused to use the surface at St Colman’s Park as an excuse for his side not passing it as much as he would like.
“Here a team like Dundalk has to try and dominate the game and be scared of nothing and have no excuses. A team like that who are former champions they have to play with that mentality.
“It was a great goal by Dane though and a great combination. I’m really happy because he had a great week of practice, like the other players to be honest. I thought Will (Patching) did well. I think he has great potential and can do much more.
“Cobh gave us hell all game and it was a really good challenge for us but I hope it can make us stronger and more confident,” he said.